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Preferring to Perfectly Plan My Plot

TypewriterI’ve been writing for a long time. I mean, like a really long time. I wrote my first short story when I was in fourth grade, and submitted it to a contest at the University of Arizona. It won, and you can probably still see it somewhere in the dusty archives there.

In my teens, I embarked upon my writing career in earnest. But I had one big problem. I didn’t like to plot out my stories.

Instead, I like to be surprised by what might happen next, like my readers. So I would sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper (yes, I actually used a typewriter back then)
and just start typing, curious to see what would unfold.

I discovered two things.

One – when you let your mind run free, you can come up with some really cool ideas.

Two – problem is, you have no idea how to finish them.

So I ended up with a bunch of great beginnings – three or four or five scenes that just sparkled with creativity, character, and possibility. But none of that gets you published.

As I started writing again over the last year and a half, I began to work with each of these story starters, finishing them and sending them out for possible publication. It’s been a fun process, if not a bit maddening at times. But now I’m about to start a brand-new one. And this time, it’s going to be different – I’m actually figuring out the plot of the story in advance.

Will this ruin the surprise for me? I really don’t know. I’ve laid out the plot scene by scene, but there’s still a lot to flesh out and discover. It’s a test. It’s also necessary, because I’ve given myself the deadline, and if I just let my mind wander, I probably won’t meet it.

So my questions for you today:

As a writer, do you plan your stories out in advance? And if not, why? If so, how detailed do you get, and you have any special tricks you use to keep things fresh as you do the writing? And finally, do you stick to your plot?

As a reader, do you think you can tell when an author has carefully plotted out their novel in advance?

2 thoughts on “Preferring to Perfectly Plan My Plot”

  1. There’s a balance to this. I do have a general idea of the plot when I sit down, but not always. And even when I have the plot in mind, there’s also the fact that it can get away from me. Plots can evolve as the story writes, taking you to places you didn’t expect to go. I’m learning to leave room for flexibility in case of just such a thing.

    It does bring with it some awesome surprises.

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  2. You know, I do both. For one series of books, I plotted everything heavily. I knew I’d write six books in that series and I wanted them all to be tightly interconnected, so I plotted them pretty well. That is gratifying to me as a reader – a big picture that comes together.

    But for fun, I write other fiction that’s *not* plotted out. I start writing and see where things go. It’s delightful to do both really. One is like sprinting and the other is like running longer distances. Both have their own satisfactions.

    Having said that, I haven’t run a mile since high school gym class. Gah.

    Edmond

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